I’ve been a leader in an almost 200 year old company and a new business. I’ve led in a church plant and now in an over 100 years old established church. One thing I’ve learned is there are many similarities in organizations – especially when it comes to the need for changing structure.
Healthy organizations maintain an unchanging vision long-term. One way they do so is with a willingness to change their organizational structure as needed.
When it comes to organizational structure not everything needs changing. If the structure works. Keep it. It’s comfortable. People understand it. Progress is happening.
But progress is happening is important. So is effectiveness and efficiency.
In my current context of the church, I’m always reminded how important our vision is and how people sacrifice personally to fund it. If the organizational structure is impeding the accomplishment of the vision (mission) it is prudent we make changes. Anything less is failing to be good stewards of what we’ve been entrusted and called to do.
There are times to change. It’s important leaders realize those times.
How do you know when organizational structural change is needed?
Here are 7 considerations to discern it is time:
When you continually encounter obstacles trying to move forward.
If every decision you are trying to make hits roadblocks or dead ends, it may be time to build a new road – or at least repair the potholes. When it takes layers of people and weeks or months to make a decision it may be time to change the structure of how decisions are made. People may need to be empowered more. Rules may need to be eliminated or rewritten.
When the steps to make the change is more exhausting than the value the change provides.
Change should be exhilarating. Change brings momentum. When the process to get there is so long or difficult it wears you out and you’ve got no excitement left – it may be time for some structure change.
When you can no longer attract leaders.
When people are controlled more than empowered you will attract doers but you won’t attract visionary leaders. Creative leadership will die, because genuine leaders rebel against controlling environments.
When you spend more time discussing than doing.
Granted we need to meet about some things. We need to plan, strategize and organize. I suggest we have better meetings, but even more we need action. Our visions are hungry for progress towards them. Meetings should create action. The best structures help you get busy doing not attending yet another meeting. When people feel drained by meetings it probably means you need some change in how, when and why you meet.
When the structure you have now isn’t sustainable long term.
Structure based upon people, for example, rather than progress, will eventually need changing as people change. Ask yourself will this structure work 10 years from now? If not, the time to change is now.
A perfect example of this is in my current established church context. We recognized our system of business meetings was not sustainable. Younger generations weren’t coming. As an older generation slowly grows smaller there were fewer people making decisions for the church, and some of those didn’t want change of any kind. We went from monthly meetings where 2% of the Sunday crowd attended to quarterly meetings (and we improved the quality of the meetings) where some 20% attend.
When all creativity is structured out of the system.
Sometimes the process can become so clearly defined nothing new is needed. There is no room for different ideas or opinions. No one needs them anymore. Every question is answered. When people fall into routines, they get bored, and complacency becomes the norm. Development stops. It’s time for some structural change which allows more freedom and creative expression.
One example where we’ve done this is empowering our staff to create their own goals and objectives. We let new people write their own job descriptions. We sign-off on what they say they want to accmplish – to make sure it lines up with overall goals – and we hold people accountable by what they say they wanted to accomplish.
When there is no longer any confusion.
This one can be harder to understand. Most peopel tend to like clarity. The problem is if everything is so carefully scripted the organization has probably become stale. It may be time for some structure change. Some of the best discoveries are found amidst chaos. I love what Andy Stanley says about “a tension to be managed, not a problem to be solved”. Good organizations have some of those.
We recently decided to take one of our largest events of the year and break it down into dozens of smaller events. Our goal was to take the energy invested in a big event and hopefully spread the energy throughout our church to better live our vision of getting more people involved. There were a lot of unanswered questions. It’s harder to manage many events than it is one. We certainly made some mistakes and learned from them, but the unanimous decision afterward is it was a good change.
Those are some of my thoughts based on experience.
Does your organization need to make some changes?